Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 08 – Esteem in the Bloodstream

Toubaru-sensei has taken note of the supreme squeeness of AhaRaidou and its deleterious effects on her health, which is why she’s made a habit of imagining the pair in all manner of adorable romantic situations while safe in her bed at night. Unfortunately, the real thing proves far more esteemed than she could imagine, as she watches the “nuclear esteemed family” dynamic of the two plus Ooshiro play out on the rooftop.

It is fortunate that Toubaru’s, or should I say Momo’s friend and fellow teacher Miyahara-sensei is well-equipped to deal with her reactions to the pure innocent romance she watches unfold. That night, she tries to imagine ever more ludicrous scenarios (with Aharen and Raidou’s characters changing completely) and almost bleeds to death in her sleep. Thankfully Miyahara had a spare key!

Ishikawa and Satou may not be the most dynamic side characters (honestly they’re bland as wallpaper paste, and probably intentionally so to serve as amiable straight men. But one thing they do do is give Aharen and Raidou an opportunity to go to a festival together, so they’re not all bad! Aharen looks appropriately angelic in her yukata.

She’s also appropriately ravenous, visiting every food stall and spending all her money before Raidou can finish explaining his grand strategic plan for “winning the festival”. Meanwhile, Toubaru and Miyahara-sensei also attend the festival, and Toubarou proceeds to lose a lot of blood for the second day in a row.

Otherwise it’s a perfect evening for our main couple, until it’s not; Raidou not only loses his phone, but Aharen, as Futaba ended up holding his hand believing him to be her dad. After taking Futaba to the lost child desk and reuniting her with said dad (after which she properly expresses her gratitude for once) the gods smile on our couple, as Aharen appears right beside him at that very lost child desk (naturally, the guy assigned to the desk assumes Raidou is her guardian.

Aharen is so happy and relieved to see Raidou, she sheds a tear. After all this dilly-dallying though, the two have to book it to get a good fireworks viewing spot. Ultimately, any spot is good for the nearly 2-meter-tall Raidou. When Aharen can’t see due to being small, he hoists her onto his shoulders, and she experiences a whole new world.

Later, after he daintily repairs her broken sandal strap, he offers his hand so they can go find the others. She hesitates, but ultimately takes it and proceeds to blush profusely. She’s grabbed him so many times, but in this time and place, it feels different. If the show is serious about progressing these feelings further, I’m looking forward to watching it happen…while making sure I’m more prepared than Toubaru-sensei was this week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 07 – More Aharen Than Aharen

Aharen may be tiny, but she needs a lot of food to keep going, so when she forgets to bring the lunch she made to school, it’s a major problem. Aharen decides to brave the chaotic school store, but even when Raidou puts her on his shoulders and powers through, her voice is too quiet to be heard. Ultimately the problem is solved when her dog Nui delivers her lunch. What a good boy!

After lunch, Raidou and Aharen play Go Fish with Ishikawa and Satou, their official second and third friends at school after Ooshino. Despite dealing the cards an possessing a multi-stage strategy for victory, Aharen runs roughshod over those plans, beating him twice on account of both luck and his misinterpretation of her expressions.

When it’s time to go to a different room for science class, Raidou notes how Aharen doesn’t move after waking up, chalking it up to the rebellious teenage urge to cut class. Turns out she was asleep in the same position so long she can’t move. Raidou resolves to carry her on his back—for the rest of their days, if necessary—but she soon regains the ability to move. Her issue is she stayed up late thinking of what side dishes she should make for Raidou’s lunch. What a keeper!

Turns out Futaba believes the way to her Akkun’s heart is through his stomach, so she challenges Futaba to a lunch duel. Aharen dusts her easily, but is magnanimous in victory, giving Futaba a cooking lesson in the home ec classroom. When Futaba returns the next day cursing Aharen for “poisoning” her lunch, Raidou points out the need to make a fresh lunch, otherwise it spoils.

The last and most hilarious skit involves an art project. After attempting to draw a landscape and then Aharen (who gets self-conscious about being observed), he settles on a graphite self-portrait. Aharen, on the other hand, has a much more ambitious plan: a full-size doll of herself.

When Raidou first spots it, he assumes she’s stopped breathing and administers CPR. Then Aharen insists on taking her home, where he positions her right beside his bed, where he’s already got the crane game dolls surrounding his head, makes for a most unsettling sleeping setup. How wonderfully bizarre!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 06 – Raidolympic Games

This week’s grab bag of athletic segments follow a consistent pattern: Raidou and Aharen try to participate in a certain activity, Raidou initially believes Aharen is either good or sucks at said activity, Aharen and Raidou gradually get better and have a tough match, and Raidou overestimates how good they are and they both get beaten by stiffer competition.

Despite being huge and relatively fit (except for that one segment where he was tubby) Raidou isn’t that great at…much of anything. In that regard, Aharen makes for a perfect opponent for him, as she’s not that great at anyting either but when they play together, two things happen: they get a little better, and they both have fun.

After Ooshiro teaches the two how to swim, Raidou and Aharen have a half-lap race that Aharen wins by staying underwater the whole time and holding her breath. They actually play to a draw in table tennis and bowling, the former match being cut short by the bell and the latter due to a comeback from Raidou after he starts throwing underhand while Aharen’s beginner’s luck wears off.

Their fourth contest is in basketball, where usually the taller or bigger player prevails, but Aharen channels Muggsy Bogues, who played in the NBA despite being only 5’3″ (160cm) tall. Aharen, like Bogues, darts around or under the towering opponent, using her quickness to get past him. She only loses when she misses her last bucket.

After watching a violent movie together (which technically counts as a completely off-camera date?!) the two try their hand at a two-player zombie-themed first-person shooter. While Raidou initially envisions himself to Leon to Aharen’s Mathilda in The Professional (one of my favorite films), he quickly dies, and Aharen shows that her lack of judging distance means she can headshot every enemy with ease, even while dual-wielding.

When Aharen goes to the bathroom at the arcade, Raidou quickly encounters her again by the crane game, but there’s something off about her; she’s way louder and more expressive than his Aharen. Assuming (naturally) that she’s suffering a sudden bout of amnesia, he simply shows her a good time…before the real Aharen shows up and reveals that the other Aharen is actually her little brother Ren, who likes to dress in her clothes.

The final segment before credits is the shortest but sweetest, as Raidou sneezes and comments that it’s gotten cold. Aharen “runs hot” so she hugs him to warm him up. When he asks her to let go, she withdraws behind a utility pole, which is suddenly too far away. While there’s no movement on their status as a dating high school couple, they both seem happy where things are at, so it’s all good.

In the post-credits segment Ren tries on more of Aharen’s clothes, and she asks him why. His answer—because they’re cute and he loves them—is good enough for her, and when he asks if he shouldn’t, she simply gives him a hug and says it’s fine.

Aharen-oneesan unconditionally supporting her cross-dressing brother might be one of her sweetest, most heartwarming moments yet. If anyone has a problem with him, they’ll have to deal with her…and her hulking kinda-sorta boyfriend!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 05 – Win-Win

When Aharen tells Raidou about a Pokemon Go-style mobile game that was launched seven years ago like it’s a new trend, he dusts off his maxed-out Yankee Godzilla character, believing her tiny, harmless-looking Shirorin will be no match against him. He’s eager to score a win against Aharen, but instead he gets stomped. It’s the classic Cactuar Conundrum: tiny and cute doesn’t automatically spell weak.

We’ve seen how strong Aharen is in the crane game department, so when Futaba spends almost all her pocket change in vain trying to win a Yankee Godzilla doll, Aharen proceeds to win nine of them. I don’t think she’s trying to show up a kid; merely show her how it’s done. She even leaves a gimme right near the out spout for Futaba to win with her last 100-yen coin.

The next segment is one of those that crops up often in a 4-panel comic: where one character changes dramatically—in this case Raidou becoming overweight overnight. When it dawns on Aharen it could be her fault for feeding him so much of her massive lunches, she reads up on dieting, hoping to help him.

But when Raidou spots her with the diet book, he assumes she’s trying to diet, something he doesn’t think is necessary, so he decides to lead by example and show her that exercise, not dieting, is the key to success. He loses all the weight he gained, only to learn Aharen never had any intention of dieting…but will surely consider leaner lunches in future!

The re-slimmed Raidou is in trouble; if he fails the midterms he’ll have to take supplementary classes. To avoid this, he proposes that he and Aharen study together, assuming from her serene demeanor that she’s already fully prepared to do well in the exams.

The two try a number of different venues for their studying, but be it the library, a restaurant, or the park, they find themselves distracted by something and can’t study. Ultimately, the classroom turns out to be the ideal spot for studying, with their desks pushed together as usual.

When Aharen, Raidou, and two classmates have after-school cleaning duty, Raidou marvels at how seriously Aharen takes this. She’s so professional in her cleaning, his vivid imagination starts to wonder if she’s also a cleaner, i.e. an assassin. She certainly seems to have a cool head for it…

After the other two kids leave, Aharen tries to move a dusted bookshelf back where it belongs, only to lose her balance and almost have it fall on her. Raidou exhibits catlike reflexes by rushing to Aharen’s rescue. Later, they continue studying, and Raidou thanks her for helping him with studying. Aharen’s response is so quiet even his trained ears can’t hear…

…So she draws closer to him and gathers him into a long, warm, affectionate hug. She expresses her happiness at being able to finally help Raidou, after all this time she’s caused trouble and relied upon him. Raidou’s response is as expected: he’s never once thought she was trouble, and he relies on her too, so he thanks her in return.

It’s easily the swetest and most romantic things have ever gotten between these two. So many anime couples have trouble communicating, but these two are crystal clear in how they feel about one another, and aren’t even embarrassed to walk about arm-in-arm or to share such a long hug.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 04 – Veritably Cordial

Raidou and Aharen’s closeness finally catches the attention of their poetry and prose teacher, Toubaru-sensei (Hana-Kana). But while at first glance they look like they’re flirting, upon subsequent glances she becomes entranced by their idyllic innocence as they gain her “veritable esteem”. Basically, they’re such good kids, the teacher gets a nosebleed.

When Raidou is a little slower than he’d want to be in handing Aharen a bottle of water when she’s choking on food, he decides that both of them need to be more expressive. While sharing a number of activities meant to elicit strong emotional responses means they’re growing closer as a couple, their faces remain veritable Noh masks to all but each other.

The pair transition from practicing more expressive faces to engaging in rap battles as the result of an inspirational trip to the CD store (something that I’m amazed is a thing that still exists in this age of Spotify and iTunes). Aharen is a natural, but Raidou needs to practice (which he does back at home, bemusing his sister and mom).

Raidou’s sister feels bad about being too harsh about his rapping, so gives her brother a fidget spinner as an apology. At school Aharen is oddly drawn to the device, and as soon as it’s in her tiny hand it barely stops spinning. She pulls of one slick trick after another, to the point Raidou worries she’s become addicted…only or Aharen to hand it back to him once she’s “spun it enough”.

The final segment involves Raidou and Aharen trying to relax in a park, but come afoul of a bunch of kids, including three boys who call her “King Aha” due to her spinner tricks. The girl of the group is worried about Aharen “seducing” her childhood friend, so challenges her to a Reversi duel. Raidou plays her first and loses completely, while Aharen simply lets her win. When the boys pick on the girl, she gets them to apologize.

After all that very non-relaxing excitement, Aharen looks very wan and hollowed-out by exhaustion. Luckily for her, her family dog Nui, a big Golden Retriever, doesn’t mind Aharen riding him home. It occurs to Raidou that the kids might’ve been on to something calling her “King”…she looks far more regal riding her dog than she has any right to be!

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 03 – Our Weird Dance

This week’s cavalcade of quiet, calm hijinx begins with Raidou looking like a shounen hero and Aharen looking like a toy troll. Turns out it’s just a matter of bed head, not that she’s joined a death metal band. When Raidou’s attempts to tame the hair result in a lotus-type shape, it’s up to Mitsuki, whose family happens to run a salon.

After cutting both Aharen and Raidou’s hair (the latter being a big step forward, even if her original attempt was to shave him bald), Aharen thanks her by inviting her to eat lunch with them. Unfortunately Mitsuki is too shy to sit too close, but Aharen just happens to have extendable chopsticks. Mitsuki also helps her apply toner, moisturizer, and lip balm, then give Aharen a fully body massage for good measure.

When one of their classmates who is training for baseball grows so large he blocks Aharen’s view of the chalkboard, Raidou tries to help out by going through every possible alternate position before concluding that the best one is the most normal; simply pushing their desks together and getting cozy. However, when the teacher announces that everyone is changing desks soon, Raidou is determined to make his “last days” sitting next to Aharen-san count.

In a co-ed softball game for P.E., Raidou learns throwing strikes to Aharen is nigh impossible due to her strike zone being the roughly the size of a postage stamp. He thinks she’s calling her shot, but her arm is itchy, and when she makes her stance lower, it’s simply the heat making her “all droopy”. But by walking her on four pitches, hers is the winning run for her team, so he at least is able to deliver her some glory.

In Home Ec class, Raidou, who can’t cook anything, is paired up with two other classmates whose cooking skills he’s not sure of. But Aharen is also on his team and she’s a great cook, so he knows they’ll be fine. However, after softball she has no energy, so he has to cook, with horrifying results. Thankfuly Aharen has a strong stomach and wolfs down all the food he made, giving her the energy needed to whip up a meatless four-course meal and a passing grade for the team.

Finally, Raidou tries to help Aharen with what he believes to be her dream to become a famous YouTuber,  practicing choreography for a weird dance while her phone records. Here Raidou’s imagination truly gets out of hand as he imagines the two of them becoming internet famous and filling arenas with their bizarre dancing that is reminiscent of Elaine’s from Seinfeld. Turns out she has no designs on being famous; she was just practicing dance moves for class.

As for changing desks, well…I expected them to simply switch places and remain next to each other, but even that doesn’t happen. And you’d think the teacher would realize Aharen can’t see if she’s behind another huge athletic kid! But that doesn’t matter, because the blissful days of sitting beside each other shall continue indefinitely…as will their whimsical antics.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 02 – XYZ

Raidou and Aharen’s rapport continues to be strong and easygoing, but while Aharen has distance and communication issues, Raidou has an overactive imagination. For instance, he imagines Aharen was in a street fight with some toughs, when she really just got something in her eye. I liked how difficult it was for Raidou to administer the drops, and how when he gets something in his eye, Aharen is quick to reciprocate—though like me, she sucks at administering eye drops!

Raidou’s imagination also runs wild concerning the constant feeling he and Aharen are being watched and followed. He looks back on all of the petty offenses he’s committed against people in his life (mostly against his little sister) and believes himself a “monster”, and thus deserving of a hitman after him. Dude is an absolute goof.

However, he’s downright normal compared to the one following them, Aharen’s towering childhood friend Ooshiro Mitsuki. She is protective of Aharen, whom she calls Reina, but also terrified of Raidou and so keeps her distance. Even when Aharen insists he’s neither scary nor a bad guy, Mitsuki can’t help but stick to her misconceptions. Also MAO voices Mitsuki in “Pecorine on caffeine” mode.

The next segment involves Aharen wearing a mask due to a mild cold, and thus not being able to properly notify Raidou that his fly is all the fuck open, revealing his pink strawberry print boxers. Let it be said that Aharen’s reaction to this is as amazing as her attempts to warn Raidou are ineffective. That said, she does come up with a lot of clever ways to block the sight of his crotch from others.

Even on the way home, after an exhausting day of failure, Aharen  positions herself in front of him to spare him embarrassment. When he finally determines that she’s been trying to get him to notice something, and sees the reflection of the two of them in the mirror, it seems like he finally gets it…only for him to wrongly assume Aharen got a haircut.

Next up is the first segment with just Aharen and Mitsuki. Even though Raidou is absent, Mitsuki is weary of getting too close to Aharen, since she’s worried she’ll be yelled at, scolded, or bopped on the head (again). That said, it’s raining, and Mitsuki keeps trying to clandestinely lend Aharen her umbrella, only for Aharen to believe the umbrella is cursed and locks it up in front of a hastily-built shrine. Ultimately Aharen shares her umbrella with Mitsuki, and uses the fact she’s within talking distance to thank her for watching over her.

The post-credits sequence is short but sweet, as Raidou breaks out the Reversi (AKA Othello) board and challenges Aharen to a match. He thinks he’s got a worthy opponent (he touts himself a “Raidou Family Champion”) when Aharen exerts the aura of a lion, but he ends up trouncing her. Then he gets her to admit she let him win, insists she fight him with everything he’s got, and then she trounces him…twice.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 01 (First Impressions) – Lean on Me

In the best tradition of any number of [Character Name] is [Character Trait] comes Aharen-san is Indecipherable, with a bone-simple premise and extremely solid execution throughout. Our protagonists Raidou and Aharen are trying to start fresh in their first year in high school, and end up complementing each other perfectly by remaining who they are.

In Raidou’s case, he’s one of those “scary resting face” guys who is hard to approach, and who thinks he’s smiling when he’s not. Aharen, he learns, has trouble gauging the proper distance and intensity of social interaction. She’s either too distant (literally and/or figuratively) or waaay too close than is socially acceptable. She also speaks with an extremely tiny voice (expertly provided by Minase Inori).

After a couple of two-ships-passing-in-the-night incidents, the two eventually connect; Aharen is her usual too-close self, but Raidou doesn’t mind because he wanted to make friends and has done so. And while he notes in his inner monologue when Aharen is way too close or clingy, he’s never embarrassed or over-the-top. Everything is handled super chill fashion.

Aharen and Raidou are so immediately likeable and adorable, it’s not hard to get swept up in their everyday school lives and not particularly care about anyone else in the class, as the episode doesn’t either. They’re both kind, decent, generous people, whether it’s plushies won in a crane game or Aharen sharing half of her enormous bento…or getting up extra-early to make him a lunch all his own when his mom is on a business trip.

There’s plenty of physical comedy to be wrung out of the pair, whether its their extreme size difference or the myriad ways Aharen fits onto his lap, tucked into his shoulder, or clinging to his leg. This gets taken to an extreme when she nods off in his lap and ends up head-over-heels. This is at the very end, which marks the first time the episode focuses on a third character—in this case, a jealous redheaded girl.

My Winter 2022 trio of Takagi-san 3, Dress-Up Darling, and Akebi’s Salior Uniform was outstanding, and are a hard act to follow. But Aharen-san is just the sweet and charming slice-of-life comedy I was ready to miss when those three shows ended. Looks like the cozy good times are going to keep rolling into the Spring.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 12 (Fin) – You’re Lithe in April

For its finale ASU takes a somewhat unique and refreshing approach to the sports festival formula: it starts at the end, with Akebi’s much-anticipated dance in front of the whole school. Before taking the stage she admits to Usagihara that she’s a little nervous.

Usagihara knows she’ll be fine, because there’s a surprise for Akebi: joining her on stage for accompaniment is Erika, who is clearly her best friend. Unsuccessfully holding back tears at this surprise, Akebi proceeds to do what she took the stage to do: dance her heart out. This is yet another opportunity for the production team to flex its animation muscles.

The dance is interspersed with scenes from the preceding festival, in which Akebi cheered on everyone in the crowd, while they cheered and supported her in her events, and now in the auditorium. It’s a nice way to break up the one weakness to the performance, which is a pretty but also somewhat bland and repetitive song, and also show all kinds of sports action.

A clever creative choice is for the assembled classmates and friends to recognize Akebi’s acrobatic dance moves in both her earlier cheer dancing and athletic feats, some of which reach incredible, lyrical heights. Then Erika switches to violin and the performance is taken to another level still. When the dancing’s over, Akebi and Erika hold hands as they bow to the crowd.

The Monday morning after the even, Akebi is naturally still fatigued from exertions both athletic and artistic. She almost can’t believe what went down during the festival and afterward, as if it were a dream. But it’s not, and she overslept so her sister made breakfast, and Akebi’s whole family is there to greet her and her bed head.

The final scenes echo the first episode, first when Akebi runs through gorgeous landscapes on her way to school, then encounters Erika alone in the classroom. This time, however, Erika isn’t smelling her nail clippers…and also, they’re the best of friends!

Akebi had once been in a class of one with no one her age to hang out with…but thanks to her joyful gregarious personality and her mom’s sewing skills, she now has not just one but at least fifteen friends in her class, and plenty more outside. They enrich her life, and she theirs—a bright and joyful balance.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 11 – Volleydaaaaaw

As soon as Erika learns the Athletic Festival after-party will include a solo dance by Akebi, she decides she wants to be the one accompanying her on the piano. Usagihara gives her the encouragement (and the Miki-chan CD) she needs to make it happen, while keeping it a pleasant surprise for Akebi when the time comes.

As for Akebi, she and her volleyball team learn, through playing against an actual volleyball player like Washio Hitomi, that they aren’t that god at volleyball. They don’t lack heart, but they need practice, and more critically a place to practice. Akebi has a tearful call with Mako-sensei, who is so happy Akebi has made friends and gives her permission to use her old school gym.

At first it looks like it’s going to be just Akebi, Usagihara, Shijou and Minakami (plus Kao, who wants to know what it’s like to not be at that school all alone), but Washio and Nawashiro, initially thought to have been indisposed that day, show up to help the novices practice. I love Kao’s reaction to seeing the statuesque Washio, as well as Washio’s response: lifting Kao as high as only she can.

I never watched Haikyuu!! but speaking as someone who has watched a bit of anime, I’m confident in saying the volleyball action animation is excellent. From the power and grace of the experienced Washio to the fumbling and incoordination of the newbies, it captures all of the beauty inherent the sport. Perhaps more importantly, it’s another opportunity for Akebi to revel in all of the friendships she’s made, working together in hopes of winning at the festival.

When Akebi shows her to the restroom, Usagihara notes just how old the school is, and learns that their little practice session is not only the most activity that gym has seen in years, but also might be the last time such a session can take place. Once Kao graduates, the school will close. So Akebi is happy she could bring friends there.

Akebi returns to the gym just as Mako-sensei decided to peek in on their practice, and is surprised to find that practically her whole class turned out to practice with her, preparations Usagihara made in case Washio and Nawashiro couldn’t make it. Mako-sensei and Akebi cant help but get emotional, while Kao leads her big sis by the hand to continue practice with everyone. Akebi shows her gratitude by giving Usagihara a big and lasting hug.

As for Erika, she’s in her own little world in her dorm room, practicing the Miki-chan piece while wearing earbuds and envisioning Akebi dancing around her in a placid ocean. Akebi truly transforms into a magical girl, gracefully darting around as Erika accompanies her. It’s another big flex from the animation staff, as the scene is simply bursting with love, tranquility, energy, and beauty.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 10 – Cheers for Fears

Akebi arrives at class in her new summer sailor fuku and is once again a sensation, but the other girls also have their summer unis to show off. They only lament that they just made the switch, but most of the day they’ll be in their P.E. uniforms, practicing for the athletics festival.

After Nawashiro teaches Akebi, Tanigawa, and Kamimoku how to make pompoms, the cheer squad can start practicing their cheers in earnest. The only problem is, none of them, including Akebi, really know all that much about cheering. Tougeguchi, who is in the table tennis club, has to teach Akebi basic choreography.

While Akebi flits hither and thither, cheering on the various other clubs, Erika finds a tennis partner in Shijou, whose body has developed faster than most girls her age and has thus left her with something of a complex about that. While she has experience playing tennis, all of it came before these changes, so she can’t quite find a rhythm on the court.

Not to fret: Erika offers Shijou some calming black tea, while Akebi takes her by the hand and has her do some cheer practice to loosen up a bit. Shijou only ends up in this unplanned situation because she became fixated on Akebi’s slender midriff and absent-mindedly poked her navel while saying “must be nice”. Akebi, bless her heart, assumed cheering was “what must be nice.”.

With Tanigawa recording their practice, Akebi finds areas to improve, while Shijou sees how stiff and restricted her movements are. But rather than give up, she pulls up her sleeves, ties off her shirt, and gets back to it, feeding off of Akebi’s boundless stores of exuberance. She even assists Akebi with a more advanced lift. Despite her initial misgivings, seeing Akebi give it all makes her want to give her all.

The cheering also reminded Shijou why she loved tennis to begin with: because it gives one the chance to look really cool. And indeed, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform animates Shijou’s powerful serve with all the camera angles and slow-motion of a superhero pulling off a special move. In essence, Shijou got her groove back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 09 – Pipe Organ of Light

After a string of episodes in which new classmates were introduced, it’s nice to get back to the “core four” of Akebi, Erika, Usagihara, and Koujo, as they meet up on the weekend for a trip to the mall for festival supplies. After getting a haircut from her mom, Akebi actually encounters Koujo on the bus, but Koujo is so absorbed in her book, Akebi doesn’t disturb her, resulting in a beautiful, silent little scene of a bus ride through the gorgeous landscape.

When the four meet up, they all praise each other’s street attire, which is very appropriate for their respective characters: Akebi’s practical tee, slacks, and sturdy sandals; Usagihara with a flowing skirt, pink nails and classy braid; Erika in a very smart, mature blouse, tiny purse, and heels; and Koujo in a super-comfy overalls with huge pockets. A look at the directory is vetoed by Akebi, who says she’ll be their guide.

A number of non-festival-supply-related detours ensues as she gives them a tour of the places in the mall she goes to most—and, this is key, has gone to the most. Akebi has been coming here since she was little, and has a lot of fond memories of shopping with her mom and sister then meeting up with their dad if he was off work. When Usagihara recognizes clothes and accessory chains Akebi never visited, she gains a whole new appreciation for the place.

Everyone gets something out of the mall. The gang follow Kojou’s lead as she’s drawn to a bookstore, and Erika happens to pick out the very book Kojou had just finished on the bus, and offers to lend Erika her copy. Akebi also comments on Kojou’s pressed flower bookmark, which her mom made for her. At lunch, Erika, new to malls, experiences her first fast food hamburger, and her friends get a kick out of how happy she looks eating it.

But when the four are about to leave the mall, Kojou notices the bookmark her mom made her is missing. Since it’s a good luck charm to her, and she has nice friends, the four comb the mall, but come up with nothing. It’s not at the lost and found, nor did it turn up at the depot. Kojou, clearly upset about losing it, nevertheless suggests they head out anyway, as the bus will be there soon.

As luck would have it, somebody found her bookmark by the exit, and tied a red balloon to it, which Akebi spots through the windows of the exit. I breathed a sigh of relief with Kojou, but then the balloon slips out of her hand, and since it’s full of helium, starts to rise into the sky. Kojou’s past memories of the bookmark flash before us. Fortunately, the balloon gets snagged on a tree, but it’s out of reach…or is it?

I half expected Akebi to climb the tree like a lemur and grab it for Kojou, but instead, offers her shoulders as a boost. Kojou says she couldn’t possibly. Usagihara suggests they get all get into mock cavalry formation, but Kojou still needs a few more inches of height. That’s when Akebi suggests they hoise her up by her leg so she can jump up and reach it. Kojou is successful, and for a tick fears she’ll fall to the ground…but Akebi’s got her.

When it starts to rain, three of the girls seek shelter, as the bus stop’s a ways away. But Akebi simply dances in the rain, and her energy and joy compels the others to join her in racing to the bus stop together, wet clothes be damned. They laugh as they run through pink, purple, and blue hydrangeas, Akebi leading the way with her red balloon.

The rain suddenly stops when they reach the bus stop shelter; it was only a passing shower. But the rain causes crepuscular rays, of the same kind Akebi saw a pretty photo of at the bookstore, and which are also called “a pipe organ of light” by a famous writer. The rays might as well be pure love descending from the heavens.

This just might’ve been the loveliest, most life-affirming and heartwarming shopping trip episode I’ve ever seen, and by far the most dramatic lost bookmark dilemma! But it’s also the longest and best sustained interaction between these four and only these four girls. The simplified cast of the episode allows all four to shine.

We’re even given the possibility that Kojou, inspired by her friend of bottomless energy, optimism, and love, might just end up being the writer of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform! This outing was peak comfy slice-of-life/friendship/youth anime, and made me yearn for the days I was actually in awe of the fancier malls of my own youth.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 08 – Feels Like Summer

Exams are over and the athletics festival is nigh. President Tanigawa and Vice President Tatsumori Ai assign everyone the sport(s) in which they’ll be participating. Not only is Akebi (as well as Tanigawa) in the cheer squad, but also on the relay swim team. She’ll be swimming with Ohkuma, Tatsumori and anchor Minakami Riri, voiced by Ishikawa Yui affecting a Kansai dialect. Erika suggests Akebi should also be considered for the anchor position

It’s decided that Akebi and Minakami should race, one-on-one. Minakami makes it interesting: if Akebi wins, she’ll do anything Akebi wants. If she wins, she gets Akebi’s sailor uniform. It’s the closest thing to conflict and discomfort that Akebi has yet faced, and as her mother is prepping a summer sailor uniform for her, she can tell her daughter is troubled. I mean, the anime’s title might have to change!

If Minakami believes that since Akebi smiles too much she won’t take this seriously, she has another thing coming. Akebi ranked fifth in exam score in the whole class simply by studying hard, having never been ranked. She’s also never measured her times, but the focused, defiant look she gives Minakami says it all: she’s not surrendering that uniform!

The race commences, picking up where the cold open left off, and as expected, the water and swimming animation is a cut above. It’s almost not fair how good this show looks doing whatever it wants; I almost wish the school had a spaceship in addition to a pool! Erika’s role in this episode is small but important; the race might not have happened had she not spoken up for her friend, and she alone starts to cheer for Akebi, loudly and proudly.

In the end, Minakami wins, but it’s bang-bang at the wall due to her quicker wall touch, a product of her experience. Akebi’s eyes fill with tears, but Minakami stretches across the lanes to give her a hug, overjoyed to have been so seriously challenged. I mean, she was in the nationals, and even going all out Akebi almost beat her. When Akebi mentions the uniform, Minakami puts her hands together in apology: she was just joking about that; rattling Akebi’s cage to ensure she’d give this her all.

Minakami is more pumped up than ever to compete beside Akebi, Ohkuma and Tatsumori. The only problem is, unlike them, she did horribly on her exams, and needs some help. Cashing in her win over Akebi, she asks her to help tutor, but Tatsumori and Tanigawa also help, and Minakami presumably passes her make-ups, meaning she can train with the others for the festival.

It was nice to see Akebi make friends in a different way; with Minakami initially starting out as the closest thing to an antagonist before revealing that she meant well all along and is truly looking forward to swimming with—and being friends with—Akebi. After the credits, her mom finishes the summer uni, and her dad and sister are blown away—as Akebi says, it’s a “whole new level of cuteness”!

But the cutest and most heartmelting moment is saved for the end, when Kao sneaks into Akebi’s room to try on her sailor uniform. When Akebi comes in to tell Kao their bath is ready, she sees Kao, swimming in the huge pullover and looking very blue because she “doesn’t look as cool” as her big sister.

Akebi, once again demonstrating what a good big sis she is, promises Kao that when she’s a little bigger she’ll definitely look cool in a sailor uniform. Until then, she ties her winter bow around Kao like a scarf, so she can look cool right now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must step out into the cold so my completely melted heart can re-solidify!

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